Night Chills / Page 39

Page 39

Years ago, when he had been in high school, he had seen a boy lose a finger in woodworking shop. The boy had sliced it off on the band saw, a very even cut between the second and third knuckles. For two or three minutes, while everyone around him babbled in panic, the boy had treated the bloody stump as little more than a curiosity. He had even joked about it. And then, when his composure had infected those who were giving him first aid, he suddenly came to terms with what had happened, suddenly recognized the loss and the pain, began to scream and wail.

In much the same fashion, the meaning of Mark’s death exploded in Paul, hit him with the emotional equivalent of a truck plowing through a stone wall. He doubled over in the chair and, for the first time since he’d come across the pathetic body in the freezer, he wept.

6:00 P.M.

When he got out of the car, Sam stood for a while, looking at the general store.

Jenny said, “What’s the matter, Dad?”

“Just deciding how much I can get for it.”

“For the store? You’re selling?”

“I’m selling."

“But . . . it’s your life.”

“I’m getting out of Black River,” he said. “I can’t stay here knowing that any time I want. - . I can just open these

people with the phrase. . . use them . .

“You wouldn’t use them,” she said, taking him by the arm as Rya took his other arm.

“But knowing that I could. . . That sort of thing can eat at the soul, rot a man up inside.. .“ Flanked by them, he went up the porch steps. For the first time in his life, he felt like an old man.


The following headline appeared at the bottom of the front page of The New York Times:




Two bellhops showed them to the honeymoon suite. On the desk in the parlor, there was an arrangement of carnations and roses, compliments of the management. Jenny made him savor the fragrances: first a rose by itself, then a carnation, then a rose and a carnation together.

Later, they made love, taking their time about it, doing what most pleased each other. He seemed to float on her and she on him, he in her and she in him. It was a rich, full experience; and they were sated afterwards.

For a while they were silent, lying on their backs, holding hands, eyes closed.

At last she said, “It was different that time.”

“Not bad, though,” he said. “At least not for me.”

“Oh, no. Not bad. Not for me either.”

“What then?”

“Just. . . different. I don’t know. Maybe. . . We’ve gained something—intensity, I think. But we’ve also lost something. There wasn’t any innocence to it this time.”

“We’re not innocent people anymore.”

“I guess we aren’t,” she said.

We’re killers, he thought. Children of the 1970s, sons and daughters of the great machine age, survivalists.

All right, he told himself angrily. Enough. We’re killers. But even killers can grab hold of a little happiness. More important, even killers can give a little happiness. And isn’t that the most anyone can do in this life? Give a little happiness?

He thought of Mark: the faked death certificate, the small grave next to Annie’s casket...

He turned to Jenny again and took her in his arms and let the world shrink until it was no larger than their two bodies.